Unstable Tajik Lake to be Tamed

Everyone recognises that Lake Sarez, a large body of water high in the mountains of Tajikistan, could burst through the dam holding it at almost any moment. Where the experts differ is on how to stop this happening.

Unstable Tajik Lake to be Tamed

Everyone recognises that Lake Sarez, a large body of water high in the mountains of Tajikistan, could burst through the dam holding it at almost any moment. Where the experts differ is on how to stop this happening.

Friday, 9 October, 2009
Lake Sarez, at an altitude of over 3,000 metres, was formed as a natural reservoir in 1911, when an earthquake caused a huge landslide which blocked the River Murghab. Water levels are rising by ten centimetres a year, and some scientists fear a further landslide could release millions of tons of water downstream, flooding territories inhabited by around five million people.



Shahodat Saibnazarova reports on the various ideas under review. One Swiss proposal is to drill a tunnel through the natural dam to siphon off water and lower the reservoir level. Kadam Maskaev, deputy head of a department responsible for Lake Sarez at the Tajik ministry for emergencies, favours the scheme because it addresses what he sees as the key aim – bringing the water level down and reducing the strain on the dam.



The water run off from the lake would bring additional benefits as if flowed downstream, turning hydroelectric turbines to generate much-needed power, and further on increasing the amount of irrigation available to Tajikistan and neighbours like Uzbekistan. Electricity production would help offset the costs of building the drainage tunnel.



Another scheme that seems to enjoy favour in government involves laying a pipeline from the lake through the mountains to Uzbekistan, which would receive a new source of fresh water. This is as much a political as an economic project – it would show Uzbekistan that the Tajiks are more than willing to share their resources.



Uzbekistan opposes plans to build or finish work on new hydroelectric schemes in Tajikistan as well as Kyrgyzstan, because of the effect this would have on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the two great Central Asian rivers that start in the Tajik and Kyrgyz mountains, respectively.



The country’s president, Islam Karimov, is demanding an internationally-run study of the likely consequences of stemming the flow of rivers which provide his nation with vital irrigation water. In a speech in early October, Karimov stressed that Turkmenistan and Kazakstan as well as Uzbekistan were perennially short of water even as things stood.



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